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EU, Japan Move Closer to Beginning Talks on Free-Trade Accord

May 31 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union moved closer to starting talks with Japan on a free-trade agreement by completing a process of mapping potential hurdles.

The end of the “scoping exercise” clears the way for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to propose that the bloc’s national governments authorize the start of negotiations with Japan on removing commercial barriers such as tariffs.

“It is very encouraging that the scoping exercise with Japan has been completed by the commission,” Danish Trade Minister Pia Olsen Dyhr told reporters today in Brussels after a meeting with her counterparts in the EU. “It was a significant step toward a free-trade agreement with Japan.”

The EU is sidestepping stalled World Trade Organization efforts to open markets by seeking commerce pacts with individual countries or groups of nations.

The 27-nation bloc struck a trade accord with South Korea that took effect last year. The EU is close to ratifying a pact with Colombia and Peru that will strengthen European ties with Latin America after earlier agreements with Mexico and Chile. The EU is also nearing completion of free-trade negotiations with Canada and considering seeking a similar deal with the U.S.

A commission proposal to EU governments for the green light to begin talks with Japan will be made “in the coming weeks,” Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told reporters. He attended today’s meeting with the EU ministers and signaled that any free-trade negotiations with Japan would entail political controversies.

“It was a very lively debate,” De Gucht said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Stearns in Brussels at jstearns2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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